The Problem

Our community is located in the beautiful hills of northeast Vista. This is our neighborhood. Elevado Road is collectively owned by all of us.  It is a private, non-public road that's similar to a long shared driveway. The entire length of Elevado is a chain of easements provided by property owners along each side of the road. Each resident in the community has a deeded right to use the road to access their property. In return for this access, each resident is also responsible for the collective repair and maintenance of the road under California Civil Code 845. Because of this, it’s up to all of us to ensure the road is maintained so that our families continue to have safe roads to travel on.

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History of Past Repairs

Past efforts to fund and perform this maintenance have been sporadic.   After two failed attempts to raise funds in 1987 and 1988 the first successful voluntary effort on record occurred in 1989 at a cost of $87,500. Elevado Rd was divided into 3 geographic zones, with each zone defined by its distance from Vista Grande.  The amount paid by each property Owner was determined by their zone, with all residents within each zone paying the same amount.  All residents were asked to contribute.

Volunteers then took responsibility for conducting collections in each of the three territories.  This was before email was common so the volunteers called everyone in their territory asking for payment, sometimes repeatedly, explaining why the road had to be repaved and answering questions. Eventually, a list of all property Owners who failed to pay was circulated by newsletter, which motivated tardy Owners to fulfill their responsibility.  Thanks to this hard work and perseverance, sections of Elevado were paved with a two-inch asphalt overlay or simply patched.

In 1992, the community raised another $22,000 to continue repairs left uncompleted during the 1989 project and to perform additional sealing. This was the last, widespread, community sponsored repair effort conducted on Elevado.

Heavy construction projects by the various water authorities in the Elevado area during 1994-96 significantly degraded the road system.  This damage was remediated thanks to vigilant negotiations with the water authorities by several community leaders and the grant of an easement across the Panoramic project by its developers. It is estimated that the water authorities spent as much as $200,000 in conducting these repairs, including repaving Elevado and some of its tributary roads up to the water line road before Flametree RoadWhile it wasn’t a full repair, it was an adequate cap of asphalt that served the community well. Due to age, and the continued stress of development, this last comprehensive repair has now outlived its useful life.

In 1983, an unincorporated property owners’ association began assuming oversight for Elevado’s maintenance requirements, electing directors, occasionally publishing a newsletter, and organizing the occasional repair efforts.  However, participation varied, with the association struggling to collect a mere $20 a year in annual dues. In 2003, frustrated by the residents’ lack of support, the association was summarily disbanded. One underlying problem, among several, was the association’s inability to qualify as a tax exempt, statutory homeowners’ association (due to its lack of commonly owned property) and the enhanced burdens of tax compliance.  Unfortunately, lacking funding and community interest, legal alternatives were not pursued.

In the absence of a functioning community association, no further repairs have been attempted on any organized basis.

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The Present Situation (Fall 2017)

According to professionals, when damage has reached this state it can no longer be successfully patched or sealed over.  It will merely reappear within a matter of months and continue to spread.  The only effective treatment is to remove the old asphalt in the damaged sections, repave and seal the entire road.

The current state of the road should not be surprising.  According to some industry standards the useful life of an asphalt road, when it hasn’t been maintained, is no more than 15 years.  We are at this point now.

Credit: PublicworksTraining.com
Credit: PublicworksTraining.com
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Challenges

Following the abrupt disbanding of the past association, an effort was made to institute either a voluntary fund or a legally enforceable road maintenance agreement, which led to a boisterous meeting at the Vista Library in the summer of 2003.  These efforts failed due to several issues, primarily the lack of consensus over an equitable methodology for apportioning the costs.  Some proponents of County based solutions believed strongly that the program had to automatically include all the side roads on an “equal share basis”, regardless of where your property was located.  Even the “zone” apportionment met with opposition from residents who felt the boundaries were too arbitrary, and they shouldn’t have any responsibility past their driveway.  Finally, there were numerous qualitative arguments concerning the relative use by adjacent properties, depending on the number of vehicles and trips per day emanating from each property.

The overarching problem is that there are 181 residences that access their principal driveway either on or through Elevado Road.  In addition, there are approximately 53 undeveloped lots which have the legal right to this access, plus another four properties owned by public entities.  The chances of reaching a definitive agreement that satisfies every argument without some reasonable compromise is zero.

However, the alternative is to simply do nothing and wait for someone else to solve the problem.  Meanwhile, the road’s deteriorating condition, and the eventual cost of its repair, only escalate.

 

County Private Road Development (PRD) 

The only feasible alternative to a private project might be a County Private Road Development agreement, or PRD, which authorizes the County to assume responsibility for repair and maintenance of a private road in exchange for fees and an assessment on your property taxes.   However, after careful consideration, a majority of Owners (over 90%) polled on its desirability rejected the PRD, at least for the immediate repairs.  There are several reasons it was widely dismissed.

  • Beyond a doubt, a PRD will be substantially more expensive than a privately funded repair.  The County requires a significant fee for their staff time in studying the project, with its preliminary estimate for just the fee alone starting at $45,000.
  • The County requires the use of paid consultants, both internal personnel as well as outside contractors, as compared with the voluntary services donated by qualified neighbors for a private project.
  • The County’s terms require a more expensive contract model for hiring the construction contractors than can be achieved competitively with private bidding.
  • A PRD will likely take several years, and the method for allocating costs per Owner will not be known until the process is much further along, making it more difficult to reconsider if it becomes prohibitively expensive.  In a private meeting with a County representative, she conceded that this would be the most complicated PRD they have ever undertaken.
  • The level of service provided by the County, as well as the escalation of future tax liabilities, is unclear.  The only basis for comparison is comparable County maintained roads in the vicinity which, frankly, do not reflect well on the County’s quality of service – again, at taxpayer expense.
  • There are concerns about the potential for Elevado being turned into a through road by the County after we pay substantial sums to bring the road up to County standards of repair.

For all of these reasons, principally the prohibitive cost and cumbersome process,, the PRD is unlikely to meet our immediate needs. In the end, it is up to us, as responsible property Owners, to meet our responsibility under the law and solve our own problem.

Next Steps...

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